Monday, December 30, 2013

My hopes for you in 2014

These are hopes that I have for you in the new year. Who are "you"? Well, you are, stranger.

1. I hope that you will realize that a door you think is closed, is not really closed at all.
2. I hope that you will see you have the strength to move past whatever is hurting you.
3. I hope that when you're sad, you will allow yourself to just feel sad.
4. I hope that you will keep your expectations from getting in the way of the beauty of what actually is.
5. I hope that you will look up from your phone long enough to realize what you're missing in front of you.
6. I hope that you will know you're worthy of all the love people offer you.
7. I hope that next time you're put down, you will find the words to speak up.
8. I hope that instead of just hearing, you will try to listen.
9. I hope that you will Say yes more.
10. I hope that you will raise your arms up and scream with joy, and mean it.
11. I hope that this will be the year that you can take that one thing (you know, that one thing you tell yourself is holding you back from living the life you want) and face it. You know the thing I mean. Make this the year.
12. I hope that you will not wait.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lessons from 2013

While looking back through some old notes, I decided to write down a list of lessons that meant something to my life this year. Some have been recurring, while some I'm very much still learning. Maybe one will mean something to you, too.

1. The timetable by which you move through life is very personal to you. No one else can define that.
2. If you manage to make just one lasting friendship each year, you will live an incredibly rich life.
3. It's important to have a hobby that's completely unrelated to your career.
4. It's not going to be good the first time. You'll probably even look back and laugh. But you have to start somewhere.
5. If you want to go on 20-mile runs, you're going to lose a few toenails.
6. It's okay to do nothing sometimes. It's important to do nothing sometimes.
7. If you don't like Diet Coke, you won't like rum and Diet Coke either.
8. Working more does not equal more happiness. Working more often does not even mean more success in work.
9. Someone who takes a personal interest in your well-being is rare and special (and should probably be taken out for ice cream).
10. Everyone's going through something. Be kind always.
11. A list about the year '13 is allowed to have only 12 items.
12. Just because something ends doesn't make it any less special.

Friday, November 8, 2013

More Than Me

Katie: Is anyone here good at math?
Me: What do you need?
Katie: Okay, so I'm trying to figure out the difference between 200,000 and 10 million. Like how many times.
(I pause to think.)
Me: 50 times.
Katie: Yeah?
Me: Yeah.
Katie: How did you know that?
Me: Well, 200,000 into one million is five times, and so 10 million... Is that, like, money?
Katie: Yeah.
Me: That's a lot of money.
Katie: I have a charity, and our operating budget is $200,000, but others have $10 million. They spend $50,000 on advertising. We spend $5000.
Me: $50,000 on operating alone?
Katie: Advertising.
Me: That's what I meant. What kind of charity?
Katie: We take young girls in prostitution in Liberia and take them off the street and educate them. I actually just won $1 million on national television.
Me: You did? That's great! 
Katie: Well, not just. It was almost a year ago. I screamed louder than I ever have.
Me: I would too.
Katie: Except for when I met Bono.
Me: Wow, you met Bono?
Katie: One time when I went to Liberia, he was just there playing with my girls. Wearing leather pants and sunglasses and everything.
Me: That sounds like Bono alright. So why are you in New York?
Katie: We have an office in Brooklyn. I went through a time without much money, and I'd sleep on benches and end up talking to a lot of homeless people. Would you read that?
Me: Read what?
Katie: I'm writing a book. It's a memoir. I'm worried only women will be interested.
Me: I'd read it. Why only women?
Katie: Because of what it's about. It seems that men only want to read books written by men.
Me: It doesn't have to be that way.
Katie: I don't know.
Me: But even if only women do, that's still a lot of people. I'm glad you're doing that. You really won a million dollars?
Katie: Yes, it was amazing!
Me: This is my stop. What's your name?
Katie: Katie. And look up More Than Me.
Me: Best of luck to you Katie. I will.

And you should too:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why I Run

Tomorrow morning my alarm will go off at 8:27, or maybe 8:13 if I plan ahead to snooze. Fridays are an hour later than every other weekday, but it'll still feel early. And when that alarm goes off and I lie deep within my warm cocoon, my mind—suddenly the great debater—will list off reason after reason why I should stay in bed for 45 minutes longer. But just like every other day, I'll roll myself out of bed (quite literally), strap on my shoes, and hit the pavement.

I run not because I always want to, though I often do. I run not for some time goal or distance goal or race goal, though those things do make it fun.

I run instead for the rhythm. For the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other beat on the sidewalk, and the symphony that forms with my heart and my breath. I run to feel the cold air rushing into my lungs and the morning sun warming my skin. I run to get lost, then to get found, and to find something else along the way. I run for the little extra spring I get when scaling the subway steps later that morning, and for the bit of soreness that reminds me self-reflexively why it's there. I run to make the world seem brighter, and to brighten myself for the world.

I choose to run because it reminds me that I have that choice.

Shifty Eyes

I pace the abandoned streets of my home,
A place that just this morning was rich with life,
Now marked by the passing suspicion of shifty eyes.
Like seeing an innocent friend inebriated,
I didn't ask for the underbelly, but it's there,
Never to be forgotten.

Friday, September 27, 2013

My Short List

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed today, and I determined that it was coming from a question of priority. What we should devote our limited time to is a huge and important question, and one that's sometimes difficult to navigate.

So while I sat on the subway, I pulled out my phone and listed off the things in my life that are important to me. Nothing physical—some were big concepts concepts—yet still very concrete and definable. I went with the ones that came to mind quickly, so it wasn't hard at all to do.

When I finished, I had 11 items, and a condensed version I came up with could have as little as 3. Looking down, I pictured my life with these things, and I knew that the list was about right. Sure, writing them down didn't make them come true, but it instantly made the concept of priority seem simpler.

I think life is simpler than we like to think. I challenge you to make a list of what is most important to you, then ask yourself if you're letting other things get in the way. You may be surprised by how little you really need.

Perhaps I'll share my list in the future, but for now, let's let it be something personal.

Monday, September 16, 2013

NYC: My First Month

There is a beautiful and unintentional side effect to my semester away; I'm no more than ten dollars and a two and a half hour bus ride from my childhood home. I spent a refreshing two days there with my parents this weekend. On the way back, I started to reflect on my first month in New York City.

The time has been a whirlwind. I've gazed with wander at millions of lights from rooftop balconies, felt like I've escaped the city on the wooded trails in Prospect Park, and actually escaped on an excursion to the Jersey shore. I've seen the sites you find on postcards, as well as many, many more that you never will. I have loved the people-watching and connectedness that comes from a subway ride home to the heart of Brooklyn, and I've eaten enough pizza and bagels to make up for three years spent on the west coast.

By the stroke of chance, great friends from USC, Daniel Boone, and even my own family have wandered their way back into my life here in a new city. And I've worked running and yoga back into the picture as well. It's all given me a very welcome grounding.

Working at Letterman continues to be a dream come true. I grew up watching this very show, and I've since told myself I'd like to work at a place like this. No matter how I feel by the end of the semester, I've already succeeded. So bring on the gravy.

One of the biggest delights has been the new friends that I've made at the show. You ought to meet them. Because they're wicked cool.

There are of course things that I miss. I miss nature, naturally. And the people. I miss that I am not there to begin my senior year at USC with the rest of my class. I wish I could be there with my brother and his girlfriend as they enter their first fall on the west coast, too. Los Angeles has become my home, and it'll be a happy homecoming.

In the meantime, this is all more than worth it. It's an adventure that is exceeding my expectations, and I am thoroughly savoring it. Plus, with a month in it still feels like vacation. Which is fine by me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reflections: Out of the Clear Blue Sky

Since I moved to New York, I have gained a new understanding of the September 11th attacks, if simply because of proximity. To stand over the piers in Brooklyn Heights, it is impossible not to imagine what it would have been like to look out with that clear view of Downtown that morning. Walking the streets of the Financial District, the videos we've all seen take on a haunting new meaning.

Last week I went to a screening of a new documentary playing exclusively here in NYC. Out of the Clear Blue Sky tells the overshadowed story of Cantor Fitzgerald, the company that lost more lives than any other on 9/11, and its CEO Howard Lutnick, who was plagued with the emotional and practical responsibility of caring for the lost employees' families. 658 Cantor Fitzgerald employees went to work in the World Trade Center that morning. 0 came home.

The film takes us back to the videos and newscasts of that day, reminding us of the shock and fear we all felt; but what was new to me was the incredible personal story of Lutnick himself. In the wake of the abrasive loss of 658 of his colleagues and dear friends, Lutnick was very publicly accused of not doing enough to support the families of the victims. But the true story involves him pulling together a company from near extinction to do just that.

As I have regained an awareness for 9/11, I have begun to notice the scars very visible all around the New York community. I promise that I will live more compassionately because of this.

If you have the chance to see this film, please do so.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Look Up

Next time you are with company and you feel that oh-so-familiar buzz in your pocket, I want you to consider the power of attention and the unwanted consequences that may come to your relationships every time your check your phone.

You receive a text, a notification comes in, and then what's your immediate reaction? Likely to pull out your phone that moment and read it, then maybe respond. Not a big deal, right? Perhaps not, if you're by yourself and the loss of focus doesn't bother you. But when you're spending time with someone, especially one on one, even a brief distraction can send a strong message. And unfortunately, it doesn't matter if it's intentional.

When you are engaged with someone in conversation, your undivided attention says to them "I am enjoying your company" and "I am interested in what you have to say". It makes them feel valued and appreciated, and they are likely to return the same attention to you.

But take that conversation, then imagine that in the middle of your partner's sentence you zone out and start checking your phone. They continue for a second or two before quickly noticing that you're in another world, then sit there wondering if you ever cared what they had to say. If giving your attention is to show you're interested, then checking your phone mid-conversation is to say, "I was enjoying your company, but oh wait...someone is trying to get ahold of me, and I'm going to bet that whatever they have to say is more interesting than you."

I bring this up because I know very well that this is not the intended message. Our smart phones are full of fascinating things, and they do help us live more efficient lives. But I look around and I see the closeness of real-life relationships at risk because of tempting technology that is grossly unsatisfying. I see beautiful real-life moments being muddled by split attention and the need to be two places at once.

So next time you're at dinner with friends and you feel the urge to flip through Facebook or check your email, just take a second to consider what really deserves your attention.

And then if you're not convinced, watch this video:

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Down the Shore

Tonight I'm leaving New York City for the first time since I arrived. I'm taking a late-night bus to Toms River, NJ where I'll meet my family. We'll spend the next two days at the shore house I went to every summer growing up. It's been a couple years since I last was there, and I'm so happy to be able to go back.

As our bus made the loop out of the Lincoln Tunnel, I caught I brief and miraculous view of the Manhattan skyline lights, before it disappeared. I'm curious how I'll feel when I return.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Little Green Chair

I'm living in an area of Brooklyn where a walk down the sidewalk includes a weave through the local people. Sitting on a stoop or standing on the corner—the sidewalk is the community meeting ground.

To this point I'd kept my head down, not wanting to bother anybody, not wanting to be bothered. But today I was waiting for my laundry, and there was nowhere to sit. I tried a little bench, but the sun was beating down on my face. I noticed a girl looking a bit like me grab a green lawn chair and plop down under a tree in the middle of the sidewalk. And so I did the same.

Oh the sweet breeze, the passing cars, the taste of a snack and a cool water. I looked up and around as I sat in the midst of passerbys.

To let myself be and to embrace a shared space—what a happy relief.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Six Seats

There's a public bench on a subway platform with six empty seats; the type of bench with dividers that keep it from becoming a bed. With so many options, where do you sit?

A young woman—let's call her Rachael—comes by and picks one of the two middle seats. It's weird to sit on the end when no one else is there, right? She had a long day (who didn't?), and she's exhausted. But the bench is now hers.

Two men come by and sit on either side, leaving one space in between. No problem. A couple then walks up and leans against the seat to Rachael's right. They're in their own little world. Thinking they'd want to sit down together, Rachael moves a seat to her left, and they sit. But now, she has nowhere for her too-big bag, and she doesn't want to put it on the ground, which she can only imagine is soaked in urine. Or maybe vomit.

The man on the far right gets up to walk down the platform, so now there are two open seats on the right of the bench. Rachael cranes her neck to look down at them. Now's her time to move. She gathers up her things. As she does, a train pulls away from another platform and commuters come rushing onto this one. In the crowd, a man knocks her bag, and it falls to the ground. She drops down to pick it up.

In the short time it takes for Rachael to lift herself back up, the two seats on the end easily fill from this new batch of passengers. Rachael turns around. At least she can take the seat she just left. At least she'll have a place to sit.

The seat is empty. Great. But wait, a man is making a bee-line straight for it. Rachael freezes. Her heart sinks. It isn't good. Because this isn't just any man.

It's a senior citizen.

A public bench. Six seats. Where do you sit?

Nowhere, that's where.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Sweet Familiar Sound

For months I have waited for that familiar sound,
And people say I'm crazy,
"How, Joel, could you tie such comfort to something that's just a nuisance,"
"You're not remembering the way it is,"
But I'm nostalgic for the peace, the cleansing, the renewal,
And I miss the dark afternoons when the world shuts down,
And everyone is allowed to stay indoors,
Because they have too,
Nothing else would make sense,
But they want to,
A part of them wants to,
A part of me wants to,
Because spending every day on an unnatural high,
Is worse than riding the highs and lows,
Because at least this way,
You know the high is real.

Tonight I'll fall asleep to rain out my window, a sound I have missed.
Oh the sweet, sweet candy to my ears.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Review: The Spectacular Now

For a few weeks I have chased an opportunity to see The Spectacular Now, and this afternoon I finally got the chance at a small Landmark theater on Houston in NYC (pronounced by New Yorkers HOW-stun).

I skipped watching the trailer and instead judged my interest based on reviews and a movie poster. I am intrigued by any exploration of "now" in regards to living in the present, a theme that to my delight the film most certainly does address. And as someone who feels himself happy to hold onto the uncertainly and growth of an extended adolescence, I revel in an authentic display of youth and the discovery that comes with it.

Strangely enough, the sprinkling of a crowd in the small theater was almost entirely made up of middle-aged couples, who I like to think were there to bask in a special time in their own lives. Or maybe they feel like they never grew up.

Black faded into a computer screen and the voice over of high school senior Sutter (Miles Teller) as he typed a college application essay, a sentence which itself sounds like the action line at the beginning of a bad student film. But while an 18-year-old writing about high school would typically be overdramatic and void of perspective, seasoned writing partners Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber capture the real significance that that time can have.

Now unfolds as a series of simple and understated situations riddled with teen hormones and awkward dialogue—not in that it is written poorly, but in that it is very appropriately crafted to capture the awkward beginnings of high school romance. From Sutter's misguided confidence to Aimee's clean-slate naivety, the characters have the fundamental and true troubles that come from a lack of development. Unlike the pseudo-teenagers depicted in shows like Glee or anything on the CW, Now's characters are a bit more familiar to us; a bit normal, a bit lost, yet guided by the hope of innocence.

I write this as a 21-year-old, myself perhaps lacking the perspective to see what high school really means. But I'll go out on a limb and say that it's not often that a film grasps what it's like to be that young; where life is eating cereal, bickering with parents, and going to French club, with a few spectacular moments sprinkled in.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What It Could Bring

I am seeing what this semester could bring. I do not know what it will bring. I do not know what I want it to bring. I do not know if I even have a choice. But I am seeing some possibilities of how I'll reconstruct this memory.

That's it. I am seeing a glimpse at what I could remember from this semester. But what it could bring, that I am living right now.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Great People

The best things in life are either those that come from great people or those that lead to meeting them.

This is never so evident as when in a new place.

Veins of That City

With the right perspective, New York feels like an incredibly small city.

Not small in the way that Douglassville, Pennsylvania or Pobunk, (insert Midwestern state here) is small. Not small in the way that everyone gets their hair cut at the same place or you know the gossip of every neighbor you pass. But small in the this-is-the-modern-capital-of-the-world-but-I-can-see-it-all-from-this-balcony sort of way.

Now, by any common and reasonable standards, New York is a huge city. No one will argue that. Compared to any other city in America, there is no question of it's superior size and influence.

But what happens when you compare the city not to another city, but to its near-mythical reputation? Our collective conversation has built New York up to be at the epitome of culture and influence. It has told us that if you can make it here, than you can anywhere. It has given us an idea of its scale that is incomprehensible from afar. And there is truth to all of this.

So then why, as I sit on this balcony with its scale in view, does the city look so small?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What Is Our Catalyst

I glance into the fragmented souls of those all around me. We are forever on the edge of a collective leveling, a truce and companionship. Yet helpless without a uniting catalyst. Destined to live in parallel.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sweet Song

Alongside the rumble of the wheels and the faces of routine comes the subway performer—as much a part of the commuter's life as scheduled maintenance or dodged glances.
The concept itself is hopeful. A series of hopefuls with a powerless audience, calling for judgement, though typically ending in indifference.
But then, the sweet song of a violin brings the car to life. Every person aboard cannot but let their attention flock to a boy seemingly unaware of the cabin's transformation in his presence.
The applause is a cry for more, the bills in deference. But the boy's attention never seems to stray from his tool, packing it up, then disappearing out of our collective moment.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Settling into NYC

I laid my very temporary roots into a small two-story apartment in Astoria, Queens late this afternoon. Because of the kindness of a man I have still never met, I will stay here until I begin my slightly less temporary sublet.

With my dad now gone, I find welcoming glances in the passing eyes of subway strangers. I wonder if they can tell I'm on my first day.

Tomorrow I start to make this place feel like home.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Anticipating NYC

It's always a bit difficult to sleep the night before I make a big move. It might also be that I'm still on California time. Or that I took a two hour nap at 7pm. Or that it's only midnight. But the point still stands.

Tomorrow afternoon I will get on a $7 Megabus that will drop me at 7th and 28th in Manhattan, leaving me to fend for myself in one of the world's biggest cities. I've been to New York City a number of times, but this time is different. This time I will be meeting a neighbor of a friend of a friend to pick up a key to an apartment I've never seen before. This time I'll be buying a 30-day metro pass and scoping out bodegas and laundry mats. This time I'll be thinking about how to carve out a life that can keep me fulfilled and connected and happy and growing through the end of the year.

My life in New York will doubtlessly be rich with the varying experiences of a new city, and it will all exist because of one opportunity, which I am remarkably fortunate to have. That is my internship at the irreverent and legendary chat show Late Show with David Letterman.

I can't lie that it is very cool to be entering a position at a show I grew up watching and a show that is familiar to my friends and family. The prospect is fun and exciting, and the experience most likely will be too.

But what is even cooler to me is that I get to continue learning how to turn a medium I love from a hobby and an extracurricular into a profession. There is a dynamic process and a dedicated staff behind this show, as there is with any sophisticated form of entertainment. And as this process becomes demystified for me, I'll become more and more capable of giving myself back into the system.

I will be kind. I will be conscientious. I will be open. I will be optimistic. And I will do my best to make the most out of every day that I've been presented at this job and in this city.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


In a world of Haves and Have Nots, I am absolutely a Have.
If asked if I am either happy or sad, I am happy.
If it's routine or spontaneity, it's typically routine.
I don't have many enemies.
I take less risks than I could.
I have fear, but it's usually manageable.
I often speak in generalizations.


My practice of discipline brings two opposing mantras. Ever dependent, yet always in conflict.

Habit. Habit. Habit.

I am human. I am human. I am human.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Endless Ocean

My feet take control away from my self-imposed restraint, launching me onto the border of consciousness where sand meets abyss. Here I rest, pushing up against the clear boundary, yet I am too content to smash through.

My shouts exercise my throat, but don't exhaust it.